Rabbi Heshie Hirth passed away on Shabbat Shuva, September 11, after being in a coma since suffering a stroke during heart surgery in the early months of 2020.
Rabbi Hirth established the Yeshiva K’tana of Passaic in 1987, which started with an initial class of 50 students. He served as the dean of the school and built it to become one of the largest private schools in New Jersey, with a sterling national reputation. The school now has almost 3,000 students. He was well known for the warmth and the genuine concern that he demonstrated for each and every student he encountered, and for their families.
He successfully steered the school through an ambitious expansion in 2016 that attracted a great deal of attention from residents in the area and attracted national acclaim for his abiding capability to guarantee the school’s financial backing.
At the same time, Rabbi Hirth shared his fundraising acumen and his rolodex of donors for important community initiatives.
He is credited with spearheading the effort to build the community mikvah, Mikvah Yisroel of Passaic/Clifton on High Street, over 25 years ago, with one community leader describing him as the “driving force” in that initiative.
He is also regarded as one of the prime movers to establish the Boy’s Mesivta of Passaic, on Temple Place, which is now nationally regarded and provides top notch chinuch to 120 young men.
He also devoted extraordinary support to the Jewish Family Services of Passaic and Clifton, serving as the guest of honor at their inaugural breakfast in 2016. As reported by The Jewish Link at the time, he exhorted the large crowd that attended, stating: “Anybody who helps nurture Jewish Family Service and helps make it happen will have a share in Olam Haba.” On another occasion, he assisted JFS in raising money for a capital campaign that enabled them to secure a facility on Main Ave. to host their growing array of services; he both shared important contacts and personally ‘picked up the phone’ to secure funds from select donors he knew well.
His interests did not rest solely on the Passaic/Clifton community. He is credited with playing a pivotal role in establishing the Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey office. In a message this week, the Agudath Israel’s NJ Office noted:
“We are deeply saddened by the petirah of Rabbi Tzvi Lipa (Heshie) Hirth. Rabbi Hirth was an icon of chinuch, of askanus, and of allegiance to daas Torah. Among his many achievements, Rabbi Hirth helped found our New Jersey office. Yehi zichro boruch.”
Yet Rabbi Hirth did so much more. As Yaacov Brisman, a Passaic resident and local attorney very involved in community organizations noted, “What was most extraordinary about Rabbi Hirth were the countless ‘hidden ways’ he assisted hundreds of families facing very difficult challenges.” He added “He didn’t like just giving eitzos (advice), he took action.”
Brisman shared one tale of a family in which the husband passed away and, when Rabbi Hirth visited the home, he noticed it was too warm. He quietly went to Home Depot, bought an air conditioner, and installed it during shiva.
Brisman added that Rabbi Hirth was involved in so many community and chesed activities that when Brisman was part of a group that parceled out Rabbi Hirth’s tasks when he fell into a coma, it took a dozen people to take on all that Rabbi Hirth juggled himself.
One community member, who asked to remain anonymous, remarked that Rabbi Hirth “cared so very, very deeply—not just about all aspects of chinuch, and institutions he supported, but about all the people he knew.”
On hearing of his passing, JFS issued a statement that said, in part: “At JFS we witnessed on countless occasions the genuine concern Rabbi Hirth had for individuals in need. He was the address that many staff and clients turned to for assistance—we shall sharply miss him.”
Passaic resident and Jewish Link contributor Dr. Naphtali Hoff shared the following anecdote: “One of Rabbi Hirth’s (zt”l) standard operating procedures was to visit bar mitzvah celebrations at their conclusion to wish the boy and his family mazel tov and to bring the festivities to a close so that the boy’s friends would be able to arrive on time to school the next day. When my son Chaim celebrated his bar mitzvah a few years ago, his oldest brother Binyomin was in festive form when he invited Rabbi Hirth for a dance, and the whole simcha was elevated to a new level.
“At Rabbi Hirth’s levaya, I spent over two hours listening as one speaker after the next extolled Rabbi Hirth’s many qualities and achievements, including that he did so much despite a life filled with personal afflictions. No one understood the power of simcha, unadulterated joy like he did. So, when he was ‘summoned’ to a dance with a teenager that he had never met—we moved to Passaic as Binyomin was entering high school—he gladly obliged despite, or perhaps because of, his many achievements.”
Another of the many esteemed attributes of Rabbi Hirth was his strong connection to his Rav, HaRav Meir Stern, Shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva Gedola of Passaic. As Brisman noted, “Rabbi Hirth consulted with Rabbi Stern on every major decision and followed his guidance faithfully.” The relationship between the two men served as an exemplar of the best type of life-long bond a Talmid can form with a Rav.
Brisman stated that Rabbi Hirth was, in many respects, a living example of Siyata D’Shemaya, who juggled so much yet always credited HaKodesh Baruch Hu with the successful outcomes. “His faith was authentic and you knew he meant it.”
By Harry Glazer